In the summer months kudzu vine takes over Atlanta, growing at an astonishing rate. This summer, the growth of farmers' markets have made the kudzu's pace look positively glacial.
With markets springing up around the city, customers can shop a different market almost every day of the week. And while consumers may relish the convenience of having a market close by, some organizers are finding themselves with a distinct shortage of the one essential element: the farmers.
“Farmer’s markets present a mysterious problem, it’s kind of like the chicken and egg problem,” said Judith Winfrey. “You have to have vendors for the customers and it is really hard to get vendors to come to the market without a set base of customers,” she continued.
Winfrey, head of Slow Food International in Atlanta, knows a thing or two about chickens. Her daily routine takes her from the farm she manages with her longtime partner Joe Reynolds, to the tables of Restaurant Eugene where she works as a maître d’.
According to Winfrey, “Atlanta has a good number of young farmers but these farmers produce on a small scale.” Further, a farmer’s time and supply are stretched by overlapping commitments. Many sell their goods in places other than the weekly pop up markets. Winfrey’s farm, Love is Love, sells their goods to restaurants, a standalone farm stand and to their CSA, in addition to a once weekly farmers' market.
In theory, the proliferation of farmers' markets could represent an opportunity for farmers to maximize their profit. Winfrey says this logic misses the fact that farmers have to spend some of their time actually farming. Farmers can’t make every market, Winfrey says, because “they have to be on the farm the other days.”
For Joe and Judith, all the hard work maintaining the markets, relationships with restaurants and farmers' markets pays off. “Joe and I care about knowing who is eating our food and extending those relationships,” she said. For now consumers in Atlanta can keep up their end of the relationship at their local farmers' markets, but still Winfrey wonders “where will our next generation of farmers come from?”
Emma Lacey-Bordeaux is an occasional volunteer at Love is Love Farm.
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